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Cheers to the consultants in Boston

December 7, 1998
Web posted at: 10:30 AM EST

by Leslie Goff

(IDG) -- With its plethora of hardware manufacturers, software developers and health care and financial services firms, Boston is thirsty for help.

The amount of work an information technology consultant can get in Boston is limited only by how much work the consultant wants, say veteran contractors and staffing agency executives.

With the one-two punch of European Monetary Union (EMU) and year 2000 staring the large base of financial services firms in the face, and a copious amount of high-tech product development going on, consultants usually can secure a new gig before the current one ends.

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"The Y2K problem is sucking up so many people that anyone can find a job in this market," says Larry Bressler, an incorporated independent consultant doing business as L. B. Resources Inc. in Newton, Mass. He's been consulting in the area for 10 years.

Skills shortages exist across nearly all technical specialties, from enterprise resource planning software implementation to client/server applications development to databases to mainframe and networking, says Tomasz Schellenberg, president and CEO of Adept Inc., a 15-year-old agency in Framingham, Mass. He says he has noticed that his clients have become more flexible in their requirements -- if a consultant has four of the five desired skills, companies will hire him and provide on-the-job training.

Competence city

Although there may not be enough consultants to fill all the openings, talent is overflowing in the area. "The level of competence here is probably higher than anywhere else in the country other than Silicon Valley," Bressler says. An abundance of highly qualified professionals from local schools such as Harvard Business School and MIT make the area very stimulating, locals say.

In fact, the long-term benefit of being exposed to talented mentors is worth considering when seeking a local consulting position, says Dan Walsh, president of Seek Consulting Group Inc., in Wakefield, Mass. "We have a lot of extremely bright people who are tremendous sources of knowledge. Ask who else is on the team and how the team is organized," he advises. "That could have a major impact on you, and as you move into the top 20% of developers, you can earn higher rates."

Agencies and independent consultants offer slightly different views on area consulting rates. Walsh quotes hourly rates of $40 to $75 for electronic-commerce jobs, $45 to $65 for year 2000 projects, $50 to $70 for client/server applications development, $40 to $55 for systems and network administration, $40 to $60 for database applications development and $65 to $85 for database architects.

Schellenberg says average hourly rates are $65 to $70, but they can go as low as $50 to $65 for mainframe projects and as high as $85 to $100 for advanced technologies.

Independent consultants quote rates that are higher than agency rates: $75 to $100 per hour for consultants with a proven specialty. They say agency markups are typically 25% to 40% more than what the consultant is paid.

Security in numbers

Consultants say they don't foresee any downturn in demand over the next few years, even with the uncertainty in the stock market. Though the Boston metropolitan area was hit hard by the recession in the early '90s, local IT consultants say they aren't likely to suffer that way again if the economy makes a repeat performance.

"This is a strange time that we're living in now because, in the past, consultants were the first to go when there was a slowdown," says Noah Kaufman, managing partner of New Word Design in Cambridge, Mass., a group of four independent incorporated consultants. "That has changed now because companies have a lot of technology projects that they have to get done regardless -- like Y2K conversions, EMU conversions and new E-commerce initiatives."

Because client/server development projects have siphoned off a lot of mainframe veterans eager to work with newer tools such as C++ and Visual Basic, area companies have ample roles to fill on their millennium projects, notes John Kuczynski, a partner in the independent firm BPT Consulting Associates in Londonderry, N.H., and past president of the Boston chapter of the Independent Computer Consultants Association. "If any other aspects of development work start to wane, those consultants would just help fill the Y2K void," Kuczynski says. "The Y2K problem is not going to go away. Demand for consultants looks strong until 2001 at least."

Goff is a freelance writer in New York.

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